The Town of Brookhaven has been ordered to take "immediate steps" to rid the town landfill of sickening stenches or face $178,000 in fines.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation on Thursday issued a consent decree requiring the town to find the sources of odors emanating from the dump in Brookhaven hamlet and "take aggressive corrective measures" to prevent the release of offensive smells in the future.
The order stems from odor violations found by the DEC in December following complaints from residents and people who work near the massive landfill on Horseblock Road.
The town also was ordered to enhance gas monitoring near the landfill, improve landfill gas collection and pay $150,000 for an unspecified environmental benefit project. The town will owe $178,000 in fines if it fails to comply with the order, the DEC said in a news release.
“The enforcement action announced today is just the most recent of many actions DEC has taken to prevent the return of odor issues that have affected the quality of life [in] the communities surrounding the Brookhaven landfill,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement. “DEC is working closely with the town of Brookhaven to address the odors and we will continue to do so in order to protect public health and the environment by taking enforcement against facilities that violate our stringent permit requirements.”
In a news release Friday, town officials said construction work in December to cover, or cap, the landfill caused a "temporary odor event," adding that while the smells were "unpleasant," they "did not impact the health of our residents.
"The DEC agreed with Brookhaven at that time that such work was needed to provide long-term odor control," the town said in the release. "As expected, work during this period resulted in odor complaints from residents living near the landfill from elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide — which causes a distinctive rotten egg smell."
Brookhaven officials said they have spent $20 million to contain odors from hydrogen sulfide and leachate at the landfill. Hydrogen sulfide is a gas that causes throat irritation, watery eyes, respiratory problems and other illnesses.
The landfill, which is slated to close in 2024, was opened by the state in the mid-1970s as a solid waste collection facility. The town took it over in the 1980s and limited waste collection to construction and demolition debris and incinerated trash from waste-to-energy plants.
Several dozen residents and teachers and parents from Frank P. Long Intermediate School in Bellport have filed a lawsuit accusing the town of negligence in its maintenance of the landfill. Some plaintiffs have claimed severe health issues that they blame on the facility.
Adrienne Esposito, a longtime landfill critic and executive director of Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the DEC order was "a step in the right direction."
“We are delighted to see the DEC taking action to address the consistent odors from the Brookhaven landfill," she said in a statement. "Community members, teachers and students at Frank P. Long School have long suffered from the adverse impacts of the landfill’s noxious odors and the town needs to rectify this burden on the public."
DEC officials said they would hold a public meeting to discuss the landfill at 6 p.m. on Oct. 10 at the Medford Fire Department.